How To Cook That: Hawaiian-Style Macaroni Salad

hawaiian-style macaroni salad

Introducing the plate lunch to my kids over two years ago and getting them to try it was a task in itself.  Today, my kids will ask to eat Lau Lau and Kalua Pig pretty frequently, because according to Jaf “it just tastes so good”! If you’re unfamiliar, a “plate lunch” is a typical local meal eaten in Hawaii composed of rice, macaroni salad and a meat entrée.

hawaiian macaroni salad

Typical plate lunch

Since it’s next to impossible to find local cuisine from Hawaii when you’re traveling internationally (we’ve been on the hunt!), if we’re craving it, our only alternative is to make it. Out of all the plate lunch options, macaroni salad is the easiest to find ingredients for and recreate. Hawaii magazine’s article on How to make Hawaii plate-lunch-style macaroni salad has two great recipes that we usually alternate between. The great thing about this salad is that once you have the two main ingredients, macaroni and mayonnaise, you can personalize the flavorings based on what your family likes. We tend to add in carrots, celery, pickles and sometimes potatoes and eggs.

hawaiian macaroni salad

Hawaiian-Style Macaroni Salad

adapted from Kau Kau: Cuisine and Culture in the Hawaiian Islands

To make a basic macaroni salad, you don’t need a recipe; just follow these guidelines:

  • The pasta: Cook 1 pound elbow macaroni (for really local style, cook until soft and fat, but you can go al dente if you prefer). 
  • The flavoring: Stir in ¼ cup very finely grated onion. Not minced, chopped or sliced—grated. It should be liquidy (this is how they do it at Diner’s, a local eatery in Kalihi).
  • The mayo: At least 2½ cups for real local style. But there are no rules, so use less if you like. Or more.
  • The add-ins: Carrots, watercress, celery, hard-boiled eggs, pickle relish—whatever suits you.
  • The finale: Salt and pepper, to taste. Stir well; refrigerate.

Notes: We mix it up between elbow macaroni or spaghetti – whatever you have in your pantry will work. The trick is to let the macaroni cool completely before you add the mayo to it – if not, the pasta absorbs the mayo, and you won’t have a creamy salad.

The Hawaiian-Style macaroni salad is the perfect side dish for any summer picnic or BBQ. It’s super easy to customize, and a best of all, it’s sure to be a kid-friendly favorite in your household!

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